Thursday, January 19, 2017

My Stake in the Ground: What I’m Building This Year

Local business It’s been just over a year since my last company failed/got acquired, and I’m excited to announce the project I’m going to be working on for the foreseeable future!

I’ve long been frustrated by the state of marketing information for small businesses. It’s what led me to start my last company, and, today, a bit more than year after that company failed, I still get the strongest sense that that’s where I want to be as a founder and CEO. What’s out there now stinks!

Small Business Owners’ Issues with Marketing

In talking to small business owners, two big issues regarding marketing come up consistently:

1) “I have no time to do any of this.” What I see here that has huge potential: A system that makes intelligent recommendations for you and then offers you the choice to do that or hire it out to a trusted provider for a fee. We can also show you how much time each item is going to take to do.

2) “I don’t know what will give me the highest ROI.” What we can do here: Use intelligent recommendations to give you the highest-leverage items to do first. For instance, if you don’t have a website with a title optimized for your SEO keywords, we’d highlight that first, as opposed to–say–adding ALT tags to your images, which is going to be a lower-value item.

I still don’t know why this doesn’t exist. It’s where we were headed previously with Whoosh Traffic as we pivoted into MarketVibe.

My best guess on why it isn’t out there today is that small businesses are notoriously hard to gather as customers, and they don’t like to pay a lot of money for marketing. Still, HubSpot seems to be doing well (they currently claim 15,000+ paying customers on their homepage), and email marketing companies like MailChimp and Aweber are also thriving.

Going Back to Where My Heart Is

When we went for this out of Techstars a year and a half ago, I got dissuaded from the small business market and I lost my focus. That was my failing–as CEO, I should have stuck to my guns and said, “Look, this is our market!” I’ve always felt most passionate about serving that market. It’s hard when you are told by investors and mentors over and over that it’s difficult to build for that market. I think they’re right–it is hard–but I should have done it anyway, because it’s where my heart is.

The other big mistake I made was focusing on the software first. This time, I’m going to build it totally differently. I’m going to build it as education first, and then gradually work my way into the software/intelligent recommendations side.

Who I’m Looking For as Beta Testers

I’m looking for Real Business Owners (small businesses with a physical presence–this could be anyone from people who have a retail store, like John, to people who are personal trainers, coaches, or massage therapists), and build a course that shows them how to market their products or services effectively.

I’ll walk through what John and I have done to grow his business from a “pocket change” business generating less than $ 2,000/month to a powerhouse that is on track to generate over a quarter of a million dollars in revenue this year. By the way, we’ve done that in 6 months and we’ve spent less than $ 2,000 on marketing. And we have an ugly-ass website. It is possible!

This is what I most want to do. This is my stake in the ground. I’m tired of people telling me that I shouldn’t work with small business owners because they are difficult and frugal. Great! I am also difficult and frugal. 
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